Escondido, CA

Careful what you wish for when it comes to libraries


Some opponents of the outsourcing of the Escondido Public Library to a private company appear to think that inviting the County Library System to take over the city library would be a preferable choice.

While it COULD be a better choice for the city, let me point out that the County library has undergone changes in the last few years that may make it less of a good option for book lovers in general.

In their haste to escape the clutches of the Maryland-based Library Systems & Services, which admittedly has kind of a dodgy history when it comes to financial transparency, or open communication of any kind, and doesn’t have a good reputation for employee satisfaction, library supporters want to run headlong into the embrace of the San Diego County Library system. Is this a good idea?  I’m skeptical.

I’m a former employee of the County library. In my youth, around the time of the Civil War, I worked as a page (personally, I thought I at least rated a chapter, but that’s another story) for several years, so I have a fair knowledge of what libraries should be and do, and what they mean to their local communities. I’m also the author of a couple of books that almost no one has read, so libraries in general have a place close to my heart.

I’ve used the Escondido Public Library for years, and have always felt that it has a much different flavor from the County system. It’s kind of funky. It definitely has more “heart” than most County libraries. And, to be frank, it has a lot more books than most County libraries do. Especially reference books, which our county libraries appear to have waved bye-bye to for the most part.

I was appalled at the changes the last director of the San Diego County Library System, Jose Aponte, made to the system. In his case I would equate “changes” with “gutting.” His policy was to remove books from the shelves that hadn’t been checked out in a few months. This policy tends to populate the library stacks with the most popular books to the detriment of interesting, low circulation books that are worth discovering. It was, in my view, the Barnes & Nobling of the library system. One was tempted to wonder, what next? A shelf of toys?

In reference to the above-mentioned reference books, I recall asking a county librarian where the big books like the Oxford English Dictionary had to disappeared to. I was told that if I had a reference question I should call the County reference librarians in the central library, and that they would be delighted to answer my reference questions.

Oh joy! One does not explore a reference book over the phone. It’s like experiencing the Redwoods by spraying Pine Sol and closing your eyes.

This is not a County library-bashing editorial. Aponte retired, and was replaced recently by another director, and for all I know he may have a different approach. I still use my County library with regularity. However, if the library supporters want to preserve their city library, they shouldn’t automatically assume that they would get a better facility if the County takes over.

To them I advise: be careful what you wish for.

*Note: Opinions expressed by columnists and letter writers are those of the writers and not necessarily those of the newspaper.

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